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Ditch the Cornwallis statue for one honouring Donald Marshall

Edward Cornwallis paid people to murder children. Seriously.

Edward Cornwallis paid people to murder children. Seriously.

If you killed a Mi’kmaq child, cut off his or her scalp and brought it to Cornwallis, he’d hand you cash. Women were also worth a few bucks — and men, too. What did he do with all the scalps people brought him? I have no idea.

Maybe you’re struggling to put a face to the name. No problem. Stop by the train/bus station in downtown Halifax, or glance up as you pedal to the south-end Superstore. There’s a lovely statue of Cornwallis in a pretty park named for him. It even has a helpful plaque, telling you Cornwallis founded Halifax in 1749. No mention of this kid-killing thing. Fair enough — it would be a bit embarrassing if all those wandering cruise-ship tourists noticed we had a big statue for the governor who issued the notorious “scalping proclamation” in 1749.

Mi’kmaq historian and Spryfield resident Daniel Paul has an interesting idea. He says we should take down Cornwallis’ statue and replace it with one of Donald Marshall Jr.

Before his untimely death at 55 a few weeks ago, Marshall won two landmark legal cases -- one that shone a light on the systemic racism in Nova Scotian courts and the other a famous victory upholding Mi’kmaq treaty rights.

The first cost him 11 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

Paul, the author of We Were Not the Savages, thinks it would be a fitting tribute and would show Nova Scotia was moving beyond systemic racism. He told me people say the whole scalping thing was such a long time ago, why the big fuss? If it’s such a small deal, he wondered, why not take the statue down?

The usual defence for Cornwallis is it was war. There was the Dartmouth incident: Allegedly, a group of Mi’kmaq men murdered a group of unarmed white men, prompting Cornwallis to start paying people to murder any Mi’kmaq person they could find. Let’s say this happened. Does that mean you can murder any Mi’kmaq person?

Remember those Canadian soldiers who tortured and killed Shidane Abukar Arone in Somalia in 1993? Want to put up a statue honouring them? How about if, after another IED attack killed a Canadian soldier, a Canadian general offered cash for the heads of all Pashtun men, women and children.

Statue? No?

So let’s get rid of Edward’s statue.

I’d much rather stand with Marshall.

Jon Tattrie is a freelance journalist and the author of Black Snow, a novel about the Halifax Explosion.

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